Image Credit: Danielle Macinnes via Unsplash

So You’ve Decided To Become A Product Manager

A practical guide to getting started.

Over the past couple of months, I have received an increasing number of requests on LinkedIn, Twitter and in-person, from people interested in exploring Product Management as a profession.

This excites me for many reasons. First of all, I think as a whole we could do with more Product Managers across different industries. So I’m more than excited that interest is growing. Secondly, for a role that brings me so much joy and satisfaction (solving real problems for people and seeing users actually use your product), it’ll be great to see other people contribute positively by creating more solutions for users.

The requests for advice are from people who have typically fallen into two broad groups: those who are just starting out professionally and wish to start out with Product Management and those who are already professionals in other domains but wish to transition to Product Management. Regardless of the category, the question has always been one variation or another of the following:

“I’m interested in Product Management; how do I get started?”

Transitioning from one career to another doesn’t come without its uncertainties. It certainly isn’t the easiest thing to have built expertise in one domain and have to chart the unknown waters of another. Likewise, building one’s career might seem like a daunting task, as the road ahead is long and most times is far from straight. If this sounds like you, I hope that after reading this article you’ll feel a bit more confident and armed with practical skills to better equip you for your journey.

Below, are my top 6 tips for starting out as a Product Manager. I’ll leave links at the end of the article of a few of my favourite resources for each of the points listed.

1. Upskill: The first most obvious tip will be to upskill. If you plan to transition to a new industry you’ll definitely need to learn all about it. What will be required of you? What skills do you need to develop to succeed? How is success measured, etc?

There are quite a good number of courses available online. Personally, and it might not be the case for all professions, but I tend to emphasize prioritizing knowledge and experience over certificates. That being said, if you’re ever stuck between spending some money on a certificate for a course just completed vs. on a new course I’d recommend the latter.

2. Product Leaders: Basically, this is anyone currently in the field that you admire and wish to learn from. Thanks to the internet, we’re no longer limited by geography and so you can follow Product Leaders from any part of the world. For instance, one of my personal favorites is Julie Zhuo, who is VP, Product Design at Facebook. She writes great product related essays.

If you’re unsure of whom to follow, one hack is to do some research to find Product Managers at your favourite companies — e.g Google, Facebook, the local startup building a product you really love, etc. After finding a few names, Medium, Twitter and Blogs are great ways of keeping abreast of their thoughts.

3. Podcasts: Whether or not reading is your thing, another great way to stay in tune with the industry is by listening to Podcasts. There are tons of useful Product discussions from people working on different products in different industries. The quality of discussions and the wealth of experience packed into the podcast episodes can’t be overstated.

4. Events: Apart from online connections, offline communities are very helpful. Be on the lookout for Product Management events that you can attend to physically interact with other PMs. Nothing beats the feeling of being in the same room with other PMs and hearing different perspectives on how people solve similar challenges. Most Product Managers I know are also super supportive of people trying to enter the industry, so another huge plus is building relationships with people who will encourage you on your journey.

5. Projects: Nothing can substitute for this. After learning new skills the next thing you’ll want to do is put them into practice. This could be as simple as helping a friend with a project they might be working on or bringing your own products to life. They don’t have to be products that generate revenue — just products that help you go through the product management lifecycle. Most people looking to transition are concerned about real-world experience. This is one easy way to get your hands dirty by building an actual product.

6. Online Communities: One of the reasons why FreeCodeCamp stood out was because of the community. A number of self-taught Engineers I know mentioned that being a part of that community helped to build their confidence and helped them stay accountable with their learning. Likewise, for Product Management, there are a number of Slack groups you can join which will connect you to thousands (and more) Product Managers all around the world. There are usually people of varying experience in the different groups, so you’ll definitely feel right at home.

That’s it! Those are my tips for getting started. Like with every other huge step, doing many things at the same time may seem overwhelming. So you might want to pick one or two things on the list to get started and then work your way down the rest. Also note, this is not an exhaustive list so feel free to explore other options that you consider beneficial. If there are any tips in particular that have worked for you and you’d love to share please do!

I wish you all the best on your journey!

P.S Are you currently a product management professional, what tips do you have for new Product Managers?


Link to Resources:

As promised, here is a list of some of my favourite resources:

  1. Courses to sign up for: Udemy PM Courses, Agile and Design Thinking Course on Future Learn, Coursera PM Courses
  2. Blogs/Publications to follow: The Product Coalition, Mind the Product, The Product Plan Blog, Julie Zhuo’s The Year of the Looking Glass
  3. Podcasts to listen to: This is Product Management and Mind the Product
  4. Finding Events: ProductTank, Meetup, and Eventbrite
  5. Online Communities to join: List of 10 Product Management Slack Groups